By PATRICK McCRAY
Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1154/1155
Randall finds the Mask of Baal in Gerard’s room and is caught snooping by Edith. And what’s she doing going alone to Gerard’s room? Randall won’t tell if she won’t. Later, Gabriel speaks with his insane neighbor, cattle baron Mordecai Grimes, who accuses Quentin of killing his herd out of jealous spite. Quentin arrives and throws Gabriel out, followed shortly by Mordecai. Out in the woods, Mordecai shoots at a mysterious specter, but misses. Randall arrives and the two discover Quentin’s sigil on a piece of paper affixed to a tree with a blade. That afternoon, while having a clandestine necking session at Rose Cottage, Edith tells Gerard about Randall’s discovery of the mask. They split up to find Randall, and Gerard hides the mask someplace new. Edith asks Gabriel about Randall, and he jealously grabs her arm and asks why. Before she can answer, Randall arrives and heels cool. Sort of. Randall, Lamar, Gerard, and Gabriel all have decent reasons to want Quentin in jail. Realizing this, Quentin goes to stop them from alerting the police about the occult implications of his alleged bovicide. Meanwhile, Randall is killed by a hooded assailant in the woods. Randall recognizes his murderer as he strikes and leaves Quentin’s sigil on the body.
As much as I defend 1840, this is the kind of episode that fuels the antipathy many fans have for the storyline. It’s devoid of any of our “core characters” from the prime storyline. Angelique, Barnabas, and Julia are all absent. 1897 ran episodes and entire arcs without Barnabas, also, but it feels as if there were fewer characters with more thoroughly established storylines… with fewer moving pieces overall. All this means is that these episodes demand a little more of our attention. It also helps to prepare for Collinwood at its arguable darkest since the very, very earliest days of the series. The moral decay that is consuming Roger when we meet him infects far more family members in 1840. They are cutthroat, greedy, disrespectful, and compulsively romantic without finding any true connection. It is a time of joyless avarice. How can something so dark be watchable? It barely is, but it is because it creates the essential context of a Collinwood that must be rescued on every level. The story ends with our prime characters exchanging power for love, defeating not only the villains, but their own worst qualities that have undone them time and again. Through this, they chart a course for Collinwood to fulfill its destiny as a bastion of hope and possibility. By the end of 1840, Collinwood is again the home of Jeremiah, Barnabas, Naomi, Joshua, and Sarah. It is the home that Victoria first discovered when she journeyed back to 1795, before Angelique’s jealousy poisoned the future. Fitting that she should undo it. Heartbreaking that neither she nor Barnabas are allowed to enjoy the restoration her bravery ensures.
So, that’s why things have to be so screwed up.
Highlights of the episode? Some of the series best and, um, un-best acting. Thayer David, who ripped the lid off “the top” with Petofi and Szandor, manages to get even more furiously jowly as cattle-crazed Mordecai Grimes. James Storm coasts on an unassailably confident oil of obsequious urbanity as Gerard… a character who only comes into his own after being possessed by someone else. Likewise, Chris Pennock is having a ball as Gabriel, who’s emerging as the hilarious anti-hero of the series. His catty response to the death of Mordecai’s cows is one of the show’s all-time best laughs. And as for the not-so-hot performances? No names, please. But they’re there.
On this day in 1970, Linus Pauling convinced millions with colds to give their urine a fascinating aroma by megadosing with vitamin C to near toxic levels. And this man has a Nobel Prize. Two, I think.